For decades, the deadlift has been a staple exercise when it comes to building muscle and strength. There’s really no debate.
Used by powerlifters, bodybuilders, and just about every other type of athlete, the deadlift is essential to building a robust fitness foundation.
After all, there’s a reason it’s considered one of the “Big 3” barbell lifts.
And what’s not to love about the deadlift? It’s the ultimate test of strength and masculinity.
Find some heavy ass weight, pick it up, and put it back down. It’s as simple as that.
There’s nothing more primal or essential to human function.
But there’s a problem…
The conventional barbell deadlift, as great as it may be, isn’t always a good mesh with an individual’s biomechanics. More specifically, the conventional deadlift as it is typically performed can lead to a lot of unwanted lower back stress, particularly in newbie lifters and those with a history of hip or low back complications.
This leaves lifters at a crossroads of sorts. Do they leave out one of the best compound full body exercises for building strength and power, or do they just “grind” it out and deal with the achy low back and nagging hip pain?
The correct answer is neither.
While the conventional barbell deadlift may not be suitable for all lifters, that doesn’t mean we have to throw the baby out with the bath water and completely eliminate the hip hinge / deadlift movement.
Enter the snatch grip deadlift.
If you’ve never considered this approach to deadlifting, or cast it aside as an “accessory” movement, think again. The snatch grip deadlift is a supreme muscle building exercise that can help transform you into a high performance machine.
Benefits of the Snatch Grip Deadlift
Snatch grip deadlifts are quite frequently left out of the casual lifter’s training program for one simple reason — they’re exceptionally difficult.
When first performing the snatch grip deadlift, you most likely won’t be able to pull as much as you do on the conventional deadlift. Now, most bros would look at this as a negative, but in reality, what you’re trading for raw poundage, you’ll make up for in quality of movement, lack of low back and hip irritation, and better muscle activation and recruitment.
With that being said, let’s get more into the specifics of what benefits the snatch grip deadlift has to offer.
Increased Range of Motion
The snatch grip deadlift fuses the movement pattern of the conventional deadlift with the grip used during a full snatch. This makes for quick, explosive movement where you pull the bar off the floor and lockout at the hip.
Because of the wider grip that must be used in the snatch grip deadlift, you must drop into a deeper starting position. The greater range of motion increases muscular tension during the exercise and requires greater leg drive compared to the conventional deadlift.
In other words, your muscles are placed under more stress while going through a greater range of motion, which is exactly what you want if you’re trying to build muscle!
Develops an Iron Backside
All of the musculature of the posterior chain (an area frequently under trained by most lifters) is heavily recruited in the snatch grip deadlift, making it an incredibly beneficial exercise for bodybuilder, powerlifters, Olympic lifters, and even recreational lifters.The increased range of motion and full body mechanical tension makes the snatch grip deadlifts a powerful muscle builder. Additionally, by using the snatch grip wider, you are forced to contract the muscles of the back harder to resist your shoulders and chest from collapsing forward.
This all adds up to a bigger, stronger back, hamstrings, glutes, and spinal erector.
Enhances Conventional Deadlift Performance
Let’s face it, none of us like to take a week off from heavy lifting (i.e. deload weeks), but one of the great things about snatch grip deadlifts is that they provide a way to still improve deadlift performance while at the same time reducing stress on the CNS and low back.
Due to these factors, the snatch grip deadlift can be performed for higher reps as well as more frequently. Then, in a few weeks, when you do return to the conventional deadlift, the strength increases you’ve achieved using the snatch grip deadlift will translate to better performance in the conventional deadlift.
Builds a Beefier Grip
The snatch grip deadlift by nature forces you take a wide grip when grasping the bar. Utilizing this wider grip forces the muscles of the forearms to work harder, which helps to train the grip while at the same time gaining the posterior chain building benefits of the deadlift.
Improves Athletic Performance
Elite athletes across just about every sport share one common trait — a jacked backside. Just take a look at the posterior chain of any NFL athlete or elite sprinter, and you’ll notice they’ve got rather impressive hamstrings, glutes, traps, and lower back erectors. Together, these muscle play a pivotal role in propelling the human body forward, be it running, jumping, or hurling another person out of the way.
When using a snatch grip, you are forced to drop your hips into a deeper starting position, which helps build flexibility and mobility in the hips.
If you’re currently dealing with poor hip mobility, consider pulling from short boxes. But, don’t use that as an excuse to avoid working on hip mobility. Continue to improve hip mobility and flexibility, with the ultimate goal being to perform strict snatch grip deadlifts from the floor.
Reduces Low Back Stress
While the increased range of motion can increase the magnitude of stress on the vertebrae during the snatch grip deadlift, the width of the grip and increased range of motion are the limiting factors, rather than strength and stability of your low back. This forces you to use less weight, and reduces the stress on the low back compared to the conventional deadlift.
By using a lower starting hip position, your quads and, more importantly, your glutes are forced to handle more of the stress, which aids your goal to build a bigger, stronger, set of wheels.
Increases Vertical Jump
Having “big ups” boils down to hip extension, which comes from the posterior chain, namely, the glutes.
Snatch grip deadlifts keen in on building a stronger backside, and even the starting position of the snatch grip deadlift mimics that of a vertical jump.
How to Perform the Snatch Grip Deadlift
The Set Up
Step up to the bar and setup similar to a traditional deadlift — bar close to your shins and centered over the midfoot.
Feet should be a little wider than a conventional deadlift stance, but more closer than a squat. Toes should be rotated out 10-20 degrees to allow room for your torso at the bottom of the movement. This position also allows for your lower back to stay more rigid at the bottom of the movement, which is a good thing if you want to preserve the integrity of your lower back.
Gripping the Bar
Here is the biggest, and most obvious, difference between the conventional deadlift and the snatch grip deadlift — the grip.When individuals first attempt a snatch grip deadlift, they attempt to grip the bar like most Olympic lifters — with their hands butting up against the collars. While this might work for some, it’s most likely not ideal for the average person attempting their first conventional deadlift.
What we’d recommend when attempting the snatch grip deadlift the first few times out is to grip the bar with your index fingers just outside of the last ring on the barbell. If that feels too wide, you can bring your hands in slightly, but the narrowest grip you should use would be where your pinky fingers are around the last ring on the barbell.
At the end of the day, to find the most comfortable and effective position, along with the one you can generate the most power from, will depend on your individual make up and will necessitate a little experimentation.
To test if the grip you’ve chosen works for you, do to relatively “easy” reps to see how it feels. If all feels good, move each hand out about one inch. Do another rep or two and see how those feel.
Continue repeating this grip-testing process until you can no longer keep your upper and lower back in a good position. When you reach that point, make a mental note of where your hands are and use that grip.
Performing Your First Snatch Grip Deadlift
Once you’ve got your grip figured out, it’s time to get ready for the big pull.
Approach the bar, set your feet, grip the bar, and lock your elbows.
Imagine pulling the bar apart laterally with your hands. This helps keep your elbows and upper back nice and tight. If you allow any “slack” into either of these areas, you’re begging for a low back strain.
Hands and feet set, now it’s time to focus on torso position.
Align your upper torso so that your shoulder blades are directly above the bar and not behind it.
Bend your knees and drop your hips until your shins lightly come into contact with the bar. Once initial contact is made, lift your chest, place your low back in a neutral position and initiate the pull by driving with your legs.Make sure to maintain a consistent back angle during the initial leg drive of the movement without leaning or rocking back too soon. As soon as the barbell passes your knees, powerfully contract your glutes to drive the hips forward for lockout.
To protect your lower back, make sure the bar stays close to your body throughout the entire movement. Do NOT let it drift forward.
Essentially, you want to “drag” the bar up your shins and thighs.
Lowering the Bar
Now that we’ve made it to the top, it’s now time to reverse the movement and begin the lowering phase of the snatch grip deadlift.
Begin the descent by breaking at the hips while maintaining maximal tension across your upper back. Continue lowering until the bar passes your knees and place the bar on the floor.
After your first rep is complete, reposition yourself and get ready to knock out the next rep.
How to Program the Snatch Grip Deadlift
Much like the conventional deadlift, the snatch grip deadlift can be programmed in a variety of ways, but due to the fact that it uses a lighter load compared to the conventional deadlift, it’s considerably less fatiguing to the CNS. This makes it an ideal option for hypertrophy or endurance work, especially when you factor in the greater range of motion that comes with performing the snatch grip deadlift.
Here are four different programming options for the snatch grip deadlift based on what your training goals are:
•3-4 sets of 8-10 repetitions
•Use light to moderate loads while executing the movement with a controlled speed.
•Rest as needed
•3-5 sets of 3-5 repetitions
•Rest as needed (typically 3-5 minutes)
•3-5 sets of 6-10 repetitions
•Moderate to Moderately-heavy loads
•Rest 90-120 seconds
•2-4 sets of 12-15 repetitions
•Rest 60 seconds
•2-4 sets of 12-20 repetitions
•Light to moderate loads
•Rest 30-45 seconds
Who Should Perform Snatch Grip Deadlifts?
Realistically speaking, the snatch grip deadlift can be used by just about any athlete from powerlifting to strongman to the weekend Crossfitter. It can be programmed in a variety of ways to accommodate strength, hypertrophy, or muscular endurance.
Where the snatch grip deadlift may be ideally suited is in regards to lifters looking for hypertrophy, yet don’t want to completely eliminate the deadlift. Factoring in the increased range of motion and reduced CNS fatigue make it a better option for hypertrophy compared to the conventional deadlift.
Snatch Grip Deadlift Variations
Deficit Snatch Grip Deadlifts
Similar to conventional barbell deficit deadlifts, the snatch grip deadlift can be performed from a deficit to increase lower back and leg strength off the floor in the deadlift. It also serves as another conjugated deadlift variation that can be programmed to improve conventional deadlift performance.
To perform the deficit snatch grip deadlift, stand on a plate or small riser and perform the movement as detailed above.
Accommodating Resistance Snatch Grip Deadlift
Accommodating resistance has soared in popularity in recent years as lifters seek new ways to achieve progressive overload beyond that of simply adding weight to the bar.Accommodating resistance comes in the form of bands and/or chains that are added to the bar to improve motor recruitment, strength, and rate of force production.
To perform accommodating resistance snatch grip deadlifts, simply add some bands or chains to the bar and pull as you normally would.
Constant Tension Snatch Grip Deadlifts
Also known as “floating” snatch grip deadlifts, this variation of the snatch grip deadlift involves performing constant repetitions of the exercise without the bar ever fully touching the floor. This variation can also be performed with or without the use of a deficit (plate or rise).
By never fully lowering the bar to the ground, your muscles are under tension for a greater amount of time, which increases metabolic stress as well as the mind-muscle connection. Both of these help to stimulate hypertrophy and can be beneficial for building muscle.
Snatch grip deadlifts are a rarely used, but highly beneficial alternative to the conventional barbell deadlift. It reduces CNS fatigue and low back stress, while at the same time increasing range of motion and time under tension. Added together, this makes the snatch grip deadlift an excellent option for building muscle, enhancing grip strength, fortifying the posterior chain, and developing better hip mobility.
It also helps build a stronger conventional deadlift too.
At the end of the day, snatch grip deadlifts deserve a place in your training program. It offers too many benefits to be ignored any longer.